Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is a relatively new technique in psychotherapy, and it took quite a fight to have it accepted as an evidence based main stream modality. It became popular both amongst therapists and clients, because it is often more effective and faster than its predecessors. It is particularly appropriate for trauma, current Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Complex Trauma (old psychological injuries due to old developmental trauma). People sometimes suffer from this condition after they experience a traumatic event such as military combat, rape, assault or even a car accident. Old developmental trauma could include shaming, put down, neglect or many other emotionally harmful experiences. EMDR facilitates healing of the mind.
The History of EMDR
American psychologist Francine Shapiro, PhD, developed EMDR in 1989. At the time, the treatment was considered a breakthrough therapy that could help people manage the harmful effects of psychological distress. To confirm the treatment’s effectiveness, therapists completed numerous controlled research studies. Clinicians who embraced the treatment technique appreciated its success rates, and by word of mouth, EMDR became a well-known therapy option for people who suffer from psychological trauma.
To date, researchers have completed more than 20 EMDR clinical trials confirming the treatment method’s ability to help those of all genders, ages and cultures. Tens of thousands of professionals are now trained to administer the treatment, and along with using EMDR to treat PTSD, clinicians have used it to help those who suffer from panic attacks, dissociative disorders, addictions phobias, physical pain and numerous other psychological symptoms.
How is an EMDR Treatment Administered?
EMDR tackles psychological problems in a unique way. The technique does not require medication nor do clinicians complete talk therapy. Instead, therapists use patient’s specific rapid and rhythmic eye movements. Rapid eye movements and bilateral stimulation via mechanical pulsing or tapping help the processing of emotional experiences.
EMDR sessions are usually about 50-90 minutes long, and during a session, the therapist will shift his or her fingers forward and back in front of the patient’s eyes. The patient will be directed to track these hand movements while recollecting a disturbing moment from his or her past. Patients should recall these moments in as much detail as possible, and they should try to include the sensations and emotions that they were feeling at the time. Some clinicians use tapping, hand thumping or musical tones instead of hand movements in front of the eyes.
Rapid eye movements naturally occur in sleep when we dream. We know that dreaming is essential for psychological health and that the rapid eye movements are properties of psychological processing of experiences we have, emotions that we feel while awake. Therapists employ the same eye movements in the clinical setting, relying on the same naturel processing mechanism that occur in dreaming.
Those who recommend the technique believe that through processing difficult emotions with EMDR, the original event can re-integrate smoothly. When the treatment is successful, the meaning behind these painful moments transform on an emotional level. For example, someone who suffered from sexual abuse as a child may begin the treatment feeling horrified and emotionally traumatized, but by the end, the former victim will feel powerful and proud knowing that he or she survived.
Before and after a treatment, the therapist will ask the patient to grade his or her distress level. As a patient moves through the EMDR treatment schedule, distressing memories should impact him or her less. The effect is that patients complete EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the traumatic experiences that once caused them immense distress.
Who Benefits from EMDR Therapy?
In most cases, EMDR is a safe therapy, one that does not result in negative side effects. However, those who are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli may respond unexpectedly. People who are suffering from traumatic events that they are unable to talk about with others may especially benefit from EMDR therapy. While more research needs to be done to determine why and how EMDR effects our processing mechanism, many therapists do consider it effective and helpful.
I often use EMDR as a part of my overall therapeutic plan. I combine it some time with Hypnosis, or some other modalities and rely on the healthy parts of the self to integrate the traumatic experiences. I prefer applying EMDR as a technique and not the therapy itself. I know, however other therapists, who use EMDR as a therapy itself, without making the EMDR process a part of their overall therapeutic strategy. I heard positive feedback about that application too. Currently, I combine EMDR with tactile bilateral stimulation and I find that some people prefer one to the other. Eye movements seem a more ‘intrusive’ (a more intensifying) way to tap into a deeper level of experience. It is definitely worth trying out at least a few of the channels of bilateral stimulation.
Zsuzsa Barta, 2016